Don’t picture this!

I spent a lot of time at academic conferences this summer where people were presenting the results of their research. One of the most noticeable changes at conferences in the last few years has been the prevalence of camera phones. It’s become routine that when a data slide comes up, several cameras, phones, and iPads go up into the air to take a photo. Personally, I find this pretty distracting during a talk, in part because people are effectively raising their hands in the middle of the talk, but even more so when the phone makes that fake camera noise.

Most conferences now have a policy against taking photos of slides during talks, which I assume also applies to posters. But such rules are usually buried in the program somewhere, which most people won’t have read. This has been┬ámy pet peeve at conferences, until this summer when I noticed people taking photos of MY slides from the audience. Like a starlet on stage, I blushed and thought, “You like me. You really like me!!” It’s honestly pretty flattering to see…at least compared to watching somebody sleep through your talk.

So what do you think? Should conference attendees be allow to take photos of slides during the conference? Here are my arguments for and against:


-It’s an academic conference and people are there to communicate research results. The pace of publishing a scientific paper is very slow; results often come out years after the experiment was completed. Conferences are a way to present research results much faster. So why shouldn’t the audience be allowed to consume that research in the most efficient method?

-Pictures are much faster than trying to write down notes while listening to the speaker.

-Camera phones have become a way of life. They might be distracting to cranky old farts like me, but not to most people.


-These results aren’t yet published. Technically one could steal the research and publish it themselves, although I suspect there is almost zero risk of this in ecology and evolution, although this might vary by discipline. But it also opens the door to plagiarism of many other aspects of one’s presentation.

-What one presents at a research conference is not always the final story. Data analyses are often hasty and in the preliminary stage and may change significantly before the paper is published. I’d hate for many of my conference slides to be remembered as the final word on any particular research topic. If photos end up posted to the internet, they’re there forever. And it wouldn’t be unusual for one to tweet a photo of a talk that they liked.

-It’s really annoying! Partly because of the distraction, but also because of the broader trend in taking pictures rather than notes. As a teacher, I can say that the notes you take will stick in your brain much longer than a passing photo.


So what do you think? Am I being a cranky old man about this (highly likely) or is this a great form for people to quickly share research results?

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